Friday, March 4, 2011

Music and perfume...

It is strange that the mind will forget so much and yet keep alive a memory of flowers that have been dead for thirty years or more.
Garden fresh gardenias, fragrant, pristine and white.
You could not help falling in love with its delicate fragrance as it spread across the room while I played the piano and my father stood and watched, listening to what I hoped was music. Ah, but it was, he loved whatever tuneless thing we played. He always said that when he would turn old, he would lie in bed and listen to the twinkling of the piano as we played in the next room. In his dreams the piano twinkled merrily undaunted by the fact that my pianist skills were abysmal.I did not know then, that the music he heard, had nothing to do with the movement of my fingers on the keys, it came from his heart...had I known, maybe I would've paid more attention to my piano lessons!!!!!!
Baba loved music and flowers. In the garden and on our terrace, we had every kind of flower and these were not only the pretty yellows, oranges and pinks, although we had a lot of those too. The flowers of my childhood were those that assaulted your senses: there was the innocuous yellow champak, spreading its bitter sweet tang in the air, the hashnuhana, also called queen of the night as it bloomed at night with its heady and intoxicating smell; the white lotus that dared call out to the girl in me so sometimes yes, even I, would give in to its charms and weave a necklace out of its tiny stars; the night jasmine, heralding the autumn after the rains, one whiff and you knew that the air was going to go cooler and the holidays were approaching. My childhood is a cacophony of colours, sounds and smells. I used to love going for a walk in the night, the fragrances teased us into our dreams and stayed with us when we grew up, so much so that now I cannot pass a white lotus tree without being assailed by memories…….memories that tumble like snakes from a jar , memories vivid and dear. Its funny how smell plays such an important part in our lives, the smell of fresh bread, the smell of lamb roasting, the smell of wet earth, the smell of warm sun drenched skin, the smell of a cigar lingering in the night sky, the smell of golden mango blossoms and cinnamon and of course the smell of night flowers. Baba loved gardening, a passion unfortunately I did not share. He personally saw to each plant, each errant strand of ivy and spent his holidays trimming, fertilizing and loving his plants. He hated tuberoses and the smell of incense, it reminded him of death. And yes, it’s a smell even I associate with death. But we learn as we grow that death is as much a part of life as anything it is with incense and tuberoses.
Have you ever swum in a pond or a lake on a golden evening when the sun was just turning into a sunny-side-up orange and a pinkish glow was beginning to take hold of the sky? You sink under the water just to cover your ears and hear the sound of silence, of stillness that has no beginning, of vacuum that has no end. And when you emerge the singing of the crickets can take hold of your senses, even as the wind blows the trees into a restless rustle. The sounds of a fire crackling on a chilly night, the quiet splash of a fish as it lazily turns in the water, the sounds of the birds calling from the thickets, the sound a lonely crow trying to claw its way into our lunch, the silence of the stars on a moonless night, these were the songs of my childhood.
Only I did not recognize the music then, I hankered for walkmans and the radio, I failed to hear the whistle of a full moon as it called from between the clouds. Now sometimes we go on a holiday and I am amazed by the luster and shimmer of these sounds, sitting on a hill in Pune, or on a terrace in Tinchuley, or on a beach in Puri the songs of the full moon fill my mind ending in a crescendo that fills the sky leaving a wail in the air. A sunset on the hills or at sea can burst like a fugue upon my senses and there is something so plainly refreshing in the golden adagio of a sunrise……….
Having appreciated these subtleties of my childhood so late in life, I am of course trying to inculcate a love for the same in my immediate family. My husband frankly thinks I am crazy; I once managed to get him to accompany me for a swim in a pond in a full moon night but he is immune to the charms of a magnolia calling in the night. Surprisingly some of it seems to have rubbed off, for last year I saw him taking impossible-to-capture pictures of the full moon as it played hide and seek between the clouds on a full moon night on his cell phone!!!! I decided not to say anything….after all there’s no point in pushing your luck. As for the girls, I drag them out of bed at odd hours, only to see a half moon galleon singing in the sky luring the stars like a ghostly siren….I wake them in the cold and tell them to just pull a blanket or they’ll miss the whiplash of the rising sun, I call them out to listen to the minuet of the summer evening, to smell the white jasmine to embrace the call of the twilight.
As I get older I realize there is so much I still have to share with them, yes I may have all the time in the world to do it but then again when you think about it, one never really has enough time. As it is, today, holidays are short, too short, often it is spent in a concrete jungle rather than a place where the briar grows dry and mottled and the owls hoot in unison with the crescent moon. And there are barely any gardens where a soul can wander free and unfettered in the shadows of the palm trees waving in the sun.
So will my daughters be able to see these, hear these and treasure the fragrances, or shall they grow to be immune to the opera around them…shall I let them be deadened by school work and studies and responsibilities or can they too enjoy the glow of a lamp quietly reflected on the water in front of them? Shall they know the joys of sleeping under the stars in the open breeze or shall they forever be lulled by the drone of an air conditioner? Shall they ever learn that once you drown out the shrill of voices and noise, there is music in your heart.....and you only have to listen?
I don’t know, but at least I will have tried.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Calcutta Police!

When ever I hear the words “Kolkata Police” an image is conjured in my mind. It’s this big fat man with a protruding belly, dressed in dirty white vaguely gesticulating with his arms. It is an amusing visual. I admit, these days you also sometimes see good looking handsome young sergeants on their bullets but those are too few and too far in between to really count. In the split second of the visual image in my mind, I also tend to think of descriptive words like corrupt, nincompoop, bribe taker all in words that are best not used here. But today here let me try to redeem the image.

Are you surprised? I am. But the other day we were returning from court, it was rather late in the evening, when the rush hour is at its peak. And “rush hour”, as we all know, is a fallacy. It should be called rush hours, because the evening session continues from about 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm each day…maybe longer, depending what part of the city you are in! My husband was driving…we were getting more than a little irritated at the endless stopping and starting and basically trying to reach home without a scratch when we were stopped at a crossing. It wasn’t a big or important crossing, just one of many on Hazra Road. We wanted to turn right. But there was no lane available as cars were jostling each other in an effort to turn the other way on the main road. The lane to our left was chockablock with cars trying to outdo each other and go first. There were cyclists and rickshaws, taxis and autos and buses that stopped to disgorge passengers. There was the hand pulled cart going the wrong way and pedestrians and cars parked on the side. An ordinary crossing, not worthy of traffic lights with typical weekday traffic. And there was a cop. One of the typical representatives of the esteemed Kolkata Police. He did not turn a hair. He smartly got cars moving, stopping one, moving another and yet another and another and did not even blink when a Superior Officer stopped his car, rolled down the window, shouted something at him and moved on. He was patient with the hand pushed cart and even the taxis on the wrong side of the road. He got them moving. He got the bus to get going, he cleared the lane to the right, and to the left, totally looked through the VIP car with the red light and then waved the traffic on. All in all it took about a minute. I turned to my husband, “ you know, given the circumstances, I think he did a terrific job!”
In the recent years, much has been written about the traffic management skills of the Kolkata Police during the Pujas. The past few years, traffic during the Pujas, which used to be horrendous, has improved greatly. The traffic keeps moving and though the going may be slow, you are not stuck in any major jams. But the Pujas are only an annual event for a few days. No one looks at the ordinary cop at every little crossing, the ones who keep the traffic moving on any given day. Like cogs in a wheel they work in unison to keep the balance, unnoticed and unappreciated. We all like to abuse them, or worse, laugh. After all as Arthur Conan Doyle said, there is nothing more unaesthetic than a policeman! But there they stay, day in, day out, rain, hail or shine doing a thankless job so we can go wherever it is we need to go. Yes, some of them are corrupt, much has been written on the corruption of cops, some are brutal and dishonest, many movies have become runaway hits on that theory alone but there are good guys too. Like in every profession. There are guys out there who are only doing their duty…so lets cut them some slack. And next time you see a seemingly helpless looking traffic cop on the road, don’t look at him with utter disrespect, he is one of the good guys who ensures you are home with your family tonight!